United Church Observer
The United Church Observer is a Canadian denominational magazine, reporting on national and international issues of faith, justice, ethics, daily living and pop culture. Although it was the official publication of The United Church of Canada for 60 years, it is now a financially and editorially independent corporation. It has a paid circulation of 60,000 copies distributed by subscription and newsstand sales. This represents a decline of 80% from the 1980s, when it had a paid circulation of over 300,000, and mirrors the wider decline in attendance and membership in The United Church of Canada.
Founded in 1829, The Observer is the oldest continuously published magazine in North America and the second oldest in the English speaking world. Begun as a weekly Methodist newspaper, The Christian Guardian, with educator and political activist Egerton Ryerson as the editor, the publication was regarded as a major voice in the life of a growing country: as today, it commented not only on matters of religion in Canada but education and political affairs. Ryerson went on to serve in government and is credited with founding the public school system in Upper Canada.
When the United Church of Canada was formed in 1925, Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregationalist publications, including The Christian Guardian, merged into The New Outlook. By 1939, though, the publication was renamed The United Church Observer. The Observer has had only five changes in editorial leadership: Rev. A.J. Wilson (1939–55); Rev. Al Forrest (1955–79); Hugh McCullum (1980–90); Muriel Duncan (1990–2006); and the current editor, David Wilson.
Since 1986, The Observer has been independently incorporated, which sets it apart from other major North American denominational publications. Although the magazine sets its own editorial policies, it maintains a healthy relationship with the United Church of Canada. Observer Editor David Wilson once said: “In the same way that the United Church of Canada is part of the Canadian identity, an independent Observer is inextricably part of the United Church identity — one of those unique features of the United Church that Canadians admire, whether they’re in the pews or on the sidelines.”
For its feature-writing, theological reflections grounded in the challenges of everyday living, biographical profiles and in-depth news reporting, The Observer has won international acclaim for journalistic excellence and garnered more awards than any other denominational publication in Canada, and is one of the most decorated denominational publications in North America. In 2008, this included 13 prizes at the Canadian Church Press awards.
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